Category Archives: BLA

5in4 Initial thoughts – M Lyons, founding partner

As with everyone in the Architectural design industry, I have noted the inexorable rise in the number of hours that individuals in offices are required to work in order to meet deadlines. These deadlines are very often set very unreasonably, to say:

  • Fit into a funding bodies’ end of financial year time scale, to suit their own bureaucracy and funding deadlines;


  • Developers requiring redesigns because the “market” has run counter to their cost consultants’ estimates of schemes’ construction costs.


  • Clients’ changes to designs required on site and the necessity to deal with the fall out, with increased contract administration not to mention redesign time. 

These time pressures are similar in many associated building consultancies such as engineering, but it is far worse, I feel, in architectural practice. Needles to say that this culture is not compensated for with increased fees, reflecting the extra hours worked as fees continue to drop rather than increase.

This ‘extreme hours’ culture eventually takes its toll on individuals’ lives both private and professional, with many dropping out of the profession.

Therefore our 5in4 trial period, is BLA’s attempt to start looking at this phenomenon in a way that – whilst working the hours of a full week – makes the extra hours often required from staff members to be either paid for separately or negotiated with a client, to then be added onto the programme of a commission.

I, of course, have worries about what we are embarking on :

  • Loss of 20% visibility during the week.
  • Inability to meet urgent deadlines as staff will be unavailable for that 5th day of working if needed.
  • Negative perceptions within the client group of part time working.
  • Disproportionate effort by certain individuals to maintain “the safety net” of being available on the Fridays for emergency issues. 

However on the positive side:

  •  BLA will still work a 38hr week, it will just be compressed into 4 days.
  • Individual staff members will have a reduced commute to and from work.
  • There will be an extra day for staff members’ private lives, potentially making family life less pressured.
  • We should be able to manage the expectations of clients and contractors that meetings and queries are arranged in the first four days of the week. 

Going forward:

  • For the 5in4 to truly work we will have to work much smarter. There will have to be less repetition; less pondering re design; less bespoke unique solutions.
  • There will have to be much faster initial solutions, with modelled presentations leading to faster and firmer sign offs of frozen design stages.
  • We are going to have to gauge our clients needs in how bespoke they wish to be in design, or in fact how they want to simply have a standard solution.
  • We are going to monitor and possibly scale back the “service” we provide to inexperienced and under-resourced contractors and clients.

Links & articles /// Wk01/02

These are some of the articles, debates and papers that have caught our eye lately:

Britain’s happiest places to live:

Good to bookmark:

Wk02 – Adjusting [LC]


This week has consisted of more snow (!), teaching at Sheffield School of Architecture and good, productive meetings (a nice change).

2nd week is nearly over already. At this pace, before we know it, the first month of this trial period will pass us by in a flash!

So far (but these are still very early days), I’m finding this new set up positive overall.

Because I get up quite early anyway, the earlier alarm clock hasn’t bothered me at all. I am actually finding that getting up at 5.30 is much easier than 6.30am. I enjoy the quietness  before the hustle & bustle of the day commences.

On the other hand getting home much later than ‘normal’ is not being very easy nor pleasant. BUT it is compensated with the days that I don’t travel, because as mentioned previously, I work part time.

One thing that makes the longer days/condensed week harder for me is travelling in bad, winter weather! Today for example, Leeds has been covered by few cm of snow. You can imagine the chaos! I am writing this post on my slow train home. Tonight I won’t get home till long gone dinner time. But at least, I hope, these are rare occasions, so it’s important not to dwell on it too much.

I am picking up good vibes from my colleagues. Certainly there seems to be a general good mood in the office. I haven’t yet asked whether this is because of the longer week end.

Amongst the projects I am working on, one is an invited competition with a very interesting brief, but I expect the next few weeks to test and challenge our 5in4 format quite a lot. Will we manage our time effectively within a ‘shorter’ week? Will the tight deadline be just too tight?

Will our Fridays be truly off? In all honesty, I don’t know. But at least we are trying and we are not sticking our heads in the sand pretending the current culture in our profession is ‘just fine’. The architectural profession has a serious, latent problem with unhealthy long hours, which must be challenged (a global problem, not just for British architects). Similarly with another latent issue which is still pervading the profession.

Onwards & upwards!

Crunching those numbers!
My 4in3 means I now travel to work one day less than ‘normal’ and I found that:
– I save 4 hours a week in train travelling;
– I commute 80 miles less a week;
– I save approximately 7kg of CO2 from travelling, a week (calculator used and its assumptions);
And… (wait for it…)
– I save approximately £80 a month in train fares!

Wk00/01 – VB

As I now work 29 hours in 4 days (increased from 26 hours) this change doesn’t affect me too much – however, I have noticed that the week has gone so much quicker – on Wednesday I thought it was Tuesday eek!

From a personal point of view, I like mornings and enjoy my job so getting up nearly an hour earlier hasn’t had too much of a major impact although the queue for the bathroom takes some getting used to. When I used to come in the office it was quiet and I had time to set out my stall and get ready for the day – now when I come (as all staff have been in an hour already) the office is busy and straight away staff are needing me (a small point but noticeable).

To work with the rest of the team I changed my day off from a Thursday to Friday – you may think that’s not much of change but it took me a long time to find a great Yoga class on a Thursday and now cant go :o( – also when I’m not at work I’m am carer for my elderly parents and the day change has impacted on them. This may seem a negative thought but I am confident the 5in4 can work for the office – with a little outside understanding and good communication within the office!!

Wk00/01 – SW


• Part of working efficiently is to know when to abstain from things which are a waste of time.
• Reduced hours places a greater impetus on effective working and as such a regular (and dynamic, changing) assessment of personal work-planning, team resource-planning, what actions to take/not take; becomes very important.
• Which means lots of sleep and coffee!! (Or vitamin B…)
• In the first week however, it seems to have made us cheerful and motivated.
• A question in my mind: how will it work if/when Clients demand a presence on Fridays? Occasional will be OK, but do we make a stand and say that we don’t work Fridays if pushed? Or can we negotiate and reason our free time when challenged?


In June 2011:
• There were 31million workforce jobs in the UK, shared by 29million people.
• 21million people were working full-time (of them 4million were self-employed).
• 8million people were working part-time & 1.5million people were working on a temporary basis.
• Of those 21million people who work full-time posts flexitime is an available feature (eg for Civil Servants, Public Servants, Self-employed and a range of other Private Sector jobs).
• What would happen if all the rest of the full-time employed workers changed hours to 5in4…? Would it change expectations of availability??